Later, gators


It’s been a while, huh?

Sorry about that.

So, this blog was born around the time I took the leap into full-time freelance writing. I knew I’d be working my butt off to make ends meet, and I knew a lot of the stuff I’d be putting together for clients wouldn’t exactly be poetic or heartfelt or deep; a lot of it would be designed to sell product, generate traffic, and any number of other un-sexy, un-writerly things designed to, at the very least, pay my rent. So, I made a promise to myself to write something creative just once a week and publish it here. Today, looking back over the last three years’ worth of blog posts, I have to say:

No. No no no no nononononononono.

Uggggghhhhhhhh. [dives under blanket] [peeks]

Nope. Still no.  

Now, it’s not as if I’ve become some kind of Important Writer — far from it — and I’m not even sure how much I’ve grown in the past three years. But a lot’s changed since I started writing for a living without the safety net of a PR job neatly depositing a check in my account every two weeks. I’ve still got growing up to do and a lot of crap to learn, but I’ve picked up some valuable things so far, including a keen sense of what my weaknesses are as a wordsmith (and a sole proprietor, and a person). Lots of them are on full display here on this blog, and even in this post, where there isn’t an editor to correct me or a vast audience to call me out on my crap. There’s a bit too much myopic self-indulgence here, I think, and it’s kind of mortifying to come back and read it now with the benefit (if you can call it that) of hindsight.

This has always been an open journal for me to ramble on about whatever’s on my mind, and yet I haven’t had the nerve to cover the heavier stuff I’ve dealt with since I started it:

I’ve gained firsthand knowledge of what it’s like to suffer from panic attacks — sure, I’ve dealt with them in pockets before, in the weeks after a loved one died and in the first month of living in a new city, but before 2011, never at random and without warning. (Hot damn, they’re awful.)

I’ve sat in the waiting room of a cardiac wing while my dad had open heart surgery, and every day that week as I drove my aunt home from the hospital, I tried and failed to ignore the fact that we had to pass the cemetery where my mom rests.

I’ve all but come to a conclusion about whether or not I want to be a mother myself.

I’ve stood by, mostly helpless, as my friends have dealt with immeasurable pain under unthinkable circumstances.

These are all big things, but I’ve barely whispered them here. In so many of these posts, I’ve been too busy posturing and being self-conscious and writing silly sentences for the sake of filling pixels on a screen. Too consumed with being cute to write much of anything real.

It’s time for that to end, I think.

Lately, I’ve had the opportunity to write some things I’ll hopefully look back on in a few years and still be able to read with pride. I’m coming to terms with an inconvenient fact about doing this for a living: I’ll never be 100 percent happy with anything I’ve finished. I’ll always go back over old work and find ways to improve upon it. But I’m also learning that it’s kind of okay — it’s something we all do. It’s what keeps us honest; it’s what helps us learn and evolve. I feel fortunate to be in a position where I can a) hand over a stack of writing I’m stoked about when someone asks for a sampling, and b) actually give sound advice to people who are just starting out. I’ve had three talented writers come to me in the past month alone, asking for pointers on leaving their old jobs behind and launching into the world of working for themselves. It’s been a kick and an honor to have those talks. It reminds me how terrified I was in the beginning, and how lucky I am to have this life… not to mention how hard I’d better keep working, because there’s always someone more than happy to take my place.

So, as I turn the corner into year number four once the holiday season’s in full swing (yep, back when I quit my last job to work for myself, I absolutely did it between Thanksgiving and the end of that year, because idiocy), it’s time to pack it in and keep my ramblings private until they’re ready to be poured into something fully formed. Those things might be essays or articles, some long and some short, but they probably won’t be blog posts, and they probably won’t live here.

Future entries on this site will be infrequent, but when I do post them, they’ll likely focus on things I’ve learned as a freelancer (or a human being), written in the hopes that someone else can benefit from them. I’ll also share the things I’ve published that I think you might enjoy. For starters, in case you’re interested, here’s a small taste of things I’ve written in the past year that make me smile just thinking about the process of putting them together.

Built, Not Born – I’ve long been fascinated by the Texas Roller Derby — especially the rebel faction of it known as TXRD, the banked track league — and I’ve long assumed that the stories of the women within it were riveting. For Citygram Austin’s Reflect Issue, I thought I’d dive into the sport and meet some of its players to see if my assumptions were true. Turns out, they were. The ones about the women being badasses, anyway.

Be Here Now: The Wild Night Sky (Field Notes from Magical Marfa) – Also for Citygram, but this time for the Escape Issue, I put together a travel narrative from my first trip to the beautiful, quiet, otherworldly town of Marfa, Texas. If you ever want to leave your life behind for a minute and pretend you’re Stevie Nicks, then get in a car, drive to West Texas and book yourself a tent at El Cosmico. But if you litter, insult a local or otherwise act a fool, I’ll rip your face clean off.

Through Her Lens: Esther Havens – I was asked late last year to write a few pieces for Alternative Apparel’s blog, Common Thread. Although they only ran one, it happened to be my favorite: a quick profile on Esther Havens, a Dallas-based humanitarian photographer who’s worked for everyone from National Geographic and charity: water to Warby Parker and TOMS. She’s lovely and kind and exactly the sort of person you’d hope to find behind such pictures. I hope she inspires a generation of creative people to stop with the selfies, once and for all, and do something more with their lenses.

Let’s All Go to Summer Camp with Amy Poehler – My favorite day of freelancing thus far was the one in which I got to spend a couple of hours at Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls Summer Camp. Specifically, I attended the campers’ final showcase, and it honestly gave me hope for the future. I wasn’t thrilled with the way the piece came out in Refinery29, but that’s my picky, selfish ego left unchecked; for a true sense of how fantastic this organization is, just follow their Facebook page (and forward it to a young girl while you’re at it). You won’t regret it, and you’ll probably start looking forward to their posts every day. They’re a bright spot, those folks, and a much-needed one at that.

So, it’s time for another hiatus from this little corner of the web, save for an occasional pop-in when I have good enough reason to share something.

Thank you for reading this. I’ll contribute more when I have something worthwhile to say. In the meantime, no more endless babbling. I’m going to try to be a better writer — and person — today than I was yesterday.


[image via Skate Talk]


Remembering Leslie

Keep it weird, friend.

Austin lost an icon this week.

The outpouring of local stories from people whose lives he touched are boundless, and a search this afternoon even turned up an article in The New York Times on the person who impacted thousands simply by being a kind, spectacular but sometimes shy homeless man who sauntered around town in a feather boa and a thong.

For those of you who don’t live in the weird, wild heart of Texas, do not adjust your monitor: you did indeed read that correctly. Leslie Cochran was a cross-dresser without a home who wandered the streets of Austin, sometimes ran for mayor, and often held memorable conversations over drinks or meals with pretty much anyone who extended the invitation.  His image was once uploaded onto the People of Wal-Mart website by an unknowing onlooker, and the web exploded with cheers that it was, indeed, our Leslie, and that he was a damn icon around these parts.  I only saw him once, at my first Pecan Street Festival in 2009, and I remember feeling like I’d reached a milestone in my journey toward being an Austinite simply by laying eyes on him.  And it wasn’t because of the thong and the boa… it was because of the fact that he could get away with wearing a thong and a boa and still elicit real conversation, camaraderie and even respect from the people around him.  Let’s be real, friends: that’s a tough thing to pull off.

Unless you’re in Austin, that is.

I’m sure he had his troubles. I’m sure they were many of the same self-sabotaging, reoccurring challenges much of the impoverished population faces, along with some of the rest of us who live in nice houses with fancy window coverings that make it easier to hide our demons from the world outside.  I’m sure some of you are raising an eyebrow at the fact that so many people could celebrate the life of a person who seemed to the naked eye like a local celebrity who’d made a name for himself based on spectacle alone.  But that’s the thing… Leslie was more than a spectacle.  In fact, he was more than a person too, in a way.  He was the personification of the reason people flock to Austin to begin with: here, you can be who you are — no matter how odd — and be accepted, embraced, and even celebrated.  But there’s a catch to that last part: unlike the realm of celebrity in general, here, it only works if you’re kind to the people around you.

I was one of the lucky few who happened to see the quiet tribute the Paramount Theater staff paid to Austin’s vagabond son on Thursday morning just after everyone heard the news of his death.  The global juggernaut that is SxSW was about to roll into town any minute, and I’m sure they had plenty of important festival details to display on their marquee.  But just for a few hours, before the town opened its doors to tens of thousands of visitors, we took a moment by ourselves to pay a quiet tribute to the man who reminded us that it’s okay to just be who we are.  For just a little while, the Paramount marquee simply bore two words: “Peace Leslie.”

A few weeks ago, we were all buzzing about the fact that Leslie was talking about leaving Austin for a little town outside of Denver where he used to live.  I think we can all agree we’re glad he didn’t go… he belonged here.  But now that he’s truly gone, wherever he is, we can bet he’s keeping it weird, just as he damn well should.